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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Again Cell Phones
About 2 years ago, I started looking around for a new cell phone. At the time, I just wanted a simple, no-frills type phone, but I kept an open mind and looked at some of the more advanced features that were becoming available. I eventually settled on a small, low-end Nokia. I instantly regretted the decision not to get a camera phone, but otherwise, the phone has performed admirably. The only other complaint I really have is that the call volume could stand to be a little louder. In any case, in the comments of one of the above linked posts, I mentioned:
I'm actually kinda surprised that cell phones aren't... better than they are now. I figure in about 2 years, my dream phone will be more attainable, so for now, I'll make do with what I got.
Well, it's been 2 years, I'm once again looking into purchasing a new phone and... I'm still surprised that cell phones aren't better than they are right now. Seriously, what the heck is going on? My priorities aren't that unusual and have only changed a little since my last foray: I want a phone that has strong battery life, good call quality (with louder call volume), good usability (i.e. button placement, menu structure, etc...), and a quality camera (at least 1.3 megapixel). There are lots of secondary features and nice-to-haves, but those are the most important things. This is apparently difficult to achieve though, and I'm distinctly underwhelmed by my options. Actually there are a lot of decent phones out there, but I think I've fallen into the classic paradox of choice trap. Here are some phones I'm considering:
  • Sony Ericsson W810i: When I bought my last phone, I remarked that the Sony Ericsson W800i seemed really interesting because it was basically knocking out 3 birds with one stone: phone, camera, and mp3 player. At the time, it was obscenely expensive and it seemed to suffer from numerous glitches. The W810i is the successor to the W800i, and by all accounts Sony Ericsson has worked through a lot of the issues to produce a pretty solid phone. I have some minor concerns about the keypad, but everything else seems in order (and the phone looks great - 2 MP with a flash) and the price tag is pretty reasonable for such a fully-featured phone. The only thing that really goes against my requirements is the "staticky call quality" that's referenced in the reviews. Also, I hate Sony. I really don't want to give them my money.
  • Motorola SLVR: I've never been a big fan of clamshell phones, so I never really cared that much about the RAZR when it came out. Then Mororola released the SLVR, which seems like a decent phone at first glance. Decent battery life (not as good as the Sony Ericsson though), reasonable sound quality, and all the standard cell phone features. The one big problem for me is that the camera looks crappy. I believe the newer models are improving the camera, so we'll see how that goes (in general, Motorola's phones don't seem to have great cameras though, even when they have decent resolutions). If they improve the camera, I'd gladly pick this over the Sony Ericsson.
  • Motorola KRZR: This is another interesting option, but once again, I'm a little turned off by the camera. It seems better than the camera on the SLVR, but still nowhere near the Sony Ericsson. There seem to be a lot of different versions of Motorola cell phones (no matter what variety), so it's a little confusing going through them all and trying to figure out which one meets your needs. I don't normally love flip phones, but I think this one's pretty good. Aside from the camera, this one appears to be a little more expensive too, which is a bummer.
  • Nokia 5300 Xpress Music: Well, this one isn't a real option just yet simply because it's not available on Cingular or Verizon. That said, it's a quality phone, and I've had good experiences with Nokia. Again, the camera seems decent but nowhere near the Sony Ericsson. The only other problem is that it seems the volume doesn't go loud enough, and that's one of my primary annoyances.
  • LG VX8600: This is the flip-phone version of the hip Chocolate phones, and it seems to have improved upon the Chocolate as well. This supposedly has one of the better cameras, but it has awful battery life.
There are some interesting phones coming. I'd love an iPhone, but I can't justify the cost. I'm interested in the rumored Microsoft and Google phones, but I doubt they'll be coming anytime soon. Of course, there are probably dozens of phones that would readily meet my needs, but they're not available in the US. I'm hardly the first person to note this, but it is quite frustrating. I understand why this is happening (the US is a small, fractured market that utilizes a variety of technologies and frequencies that are different than what Europe & Asia use. So companies naturally focus on the larger, more homogenous European & Asian markets.), but it's still annoying. I'm not sure how this will be rectified; perhaps we'll just have to wait until 4G comes along (assuming everyone adopts the same 4G).

Update: Drool. Battery life looks lame, but otherwise it's great. Not that it matters, as it ain't available yet.
Posted by Mark on April 29, 2007 at 07:39 PM .: Comments (2) | link :.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Link to Someone New
You know the drill. Time is short, so a few new links to people I've never linked to before.
  • 10 Ways to Eliminate the Echo Chamber: There's a lot of talk about the echo chamber of bloggers, where like-minded folks only read each other, etc... I don't especially buy it, in part because a lot of people do the stuff on Chris Pirillo's list. I particularly like this one:
    Make yourself uncomfortable. I don't do it often enough, but whenever I step outside my comfort zone - I grow. I'm an introvert at heart, and the only way I can overcome this social shortcoming is by being gregarious when my gut reaction is to retreat. When you force yourself to do something that you don't understand, the results might be messy - but they'll be genuine. It's cool to swim alongside the cool kids, but it's more cool to be in a clique of one.
    This is one of the driving forces behind why I blog, even though I probably don't do it often enough. I've always sorta "blogged to learn" and I probably should be doing it more...
  • The Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel: I can't think of a way to describe this. It's, uh, strange.
  • The Criterion Contraption: This blog is written by a guy who wants to watch every DVD in the Criterion Collection (pretty much the first company to load laserdiscs and DVDs up with special features). He's pretty much going in order, and he's up to #68 (he's got a few hundred to go).
That's all for now...
Posted by Mark on April 25, 2007 at 08:17 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Vandread: Second Stage
I finished Vandread: Second Stage last week, but I was so busy this week that I haven't had time to post any thoughts until now. As with the first series, I found myself quite pleased with this series. It's more or less the continuation and conclusion to the first series, so this is isn't too surprising. Potential spoilers ahead...


The men and women aboard the pirate ship Nirvana have learned to work well together and get past their cultural differences. This is a good thing because the enemy they face seems to be quite adaptable, raising the bar during each battle. We learn a lot about the enemy in this series, but it basically boils down to this: after initial colonists left from Earth, the planet suffered some sort of meltdown and the people of Earth could no longer reproduce. The Earthlings became jaded and twisted, consumed by hate and fear, eventually constructing a robotic fleet that would go after the colonists, harvesting their organs so that the Earthlings could continue to live. (I don't know how much of this will make sense if you haven't seen the series, but it would take too long to go through the entire story...)

The revelations are meted out at a reasonable pace and are mixed with various character development arcs that make up the series' emotional core. Interestingly, the single most important character in the first series turns out to be something I barely noticed in the first series: the Paksis.

The Paksis
The Paksis, it's alive!

The Paksis is the power plant of the Nirvana - it's also apparently a living, sentient being. The Paksis was discovered on Earth as the colonists were beginning to expand into the galaxy. It's unique properties made it ideal for an energy source, and so it was split into two: one remained on earth, the other was sent out with the colonists (eventually ending up on the Nirvana). The red Paksis has suffered as the people of Earth enslaved it to construct and power their harvester fleet, while the blue Paksis went on as part of the colonists' fleet.

The Paksis is behind a lot of the confusing things that happen in the series - it's the driving force behind the way ships combine and evolve, and it's also got a self-preservation instinct that opened a wormhole and sent them light-years away in the first series. During many of the battles, the enemy shows the ability to adapt and evolve, mimicking many of the powers of our heroes. This lead to lots of questions until I realized that the Earthlings were simply using their Paksis to copy the fighting machines and tactics that were created by Nirvana's crew. Steven Den Beste wrote about this a while back, using the Japanese word kiai (which essentially means "fighting spirit") as a starting point:
All through the series the four primary characters seem to have an unreasonably fast learning curve regarding the abilities of the various versions of Vandreads as they appear, becoming adept at using them in just a few seconds. It's not clear that the controls really matter, in fact. When they're sufficiently motivated, the machine does what they need it to do pretty much no matter what control they use.

And afterwards they're all weary, though Hibiki is usually the worst off in that regard. It's because he's been using his ki to make the machines run -- because they're not really machines.

What's even more interesting is the cases where a character manages to raise their ki and when they do so it directly causes changes of some kind before our eyes. In Vandread it's all about the Paksis; what they're doing is to somehow link to the Paksis, which uses its mysterious powers to create what is needed. It isn't necessarily a conscious need, of course. Hibiki does this more than anyone, and Meia/Dita/Jura do it to some extent, but Bart also does it once, in episode 16. (That is, the third episode of the second series.) Bart attains a sufficiently high emotional state that he is able to reach the Paksis, and as a result the Nirvana is changed to create banks of missile launchers.

Bart didn't do that deliberately. But in the emotional state he was in at the time he didn't question it. He was able to fully control them immediately. They did exactly what he expected them to do and needed them to do, even to where they struck only enemies and dodged around friends.
In essence, the entire series could be seen as a struggle between the red and blue Paksis, and the way the blue Paksis draws on the power of it's crew leads to a lot of interesting character dynamics. As with the first series, there are several interesting character arcs here. One is the aformentioned arc with Bart, who becomes attached to sick little girl and is thus able to achieve an emotional state that allows him to interface with the Paksis (in order to protect the girl). It's a fantastic episode, and it features a great reveal at the end:

Bart's new haircut
Bart's new haircut

Hibiki continues to grow, as does his relationship with Dita, and it turns out that Hibiki plays a surprisingly important role in unifying the opposition to Earth's harvester fleet. Oh, and speaking of surprises, there's a big one towards the end. Some hints were dropped, but I doubt anyone saw it coming (indeed, at first, I was really confused by what happened).

All in all, the story progressed well and most of the unanswered questions were resolved. We get more background on Earth, we get more detail on why Tarak and Mejale are segregated by sex (though I'm still not totally clear on that one), and of course we find out a lot more about many of the characters. There were some nitpicks and open questions, but nothing major. For instance, what was the deal with Gascogne's return? I was happy to see her come back and all, but a little baffled as to how she managed to do so... it seemed extraneous and unnecessary to me. Also, the battles with Earth's forces got a little repetitive, but you'd expect that in a series where our heroes engage the enemy in every episode. However, as I noted in my review of the first series, nitpicks don't seem to bother me with this series.

In the end, it's a solid series, and pretty much exactly what I was looking for. By the end, I was sad to see the characters go, but pleased that there was some sort of closure to the story that made sense. Thanks again to Steven for the recommendation.

As usual, more screens and comments below the fold... This one should make Pete happy, as I've grown to really like the character of Barnette. In the first series, she was mostly relegated to being Jura's man-hating sidekick, but in Second Stage, she gets a lot more to do (I still don't like Jura though). She seems to have an affinity for "antique" projectile weapons, which comes in handy, and she gets a little more depth later in the series when she takes over the behind-the-scenes operations in Gascogne's absence...


Bang, Bang Barnette

Barnette Being Friendly

And here's the obligatory Mecha shot, featuring the so-called Super Vandread, comprised of 4 ships:

The Super Vandread

In one of the later episodes in the series, Hibiki gets temporarily stranded on a planet where the people can only communicate telekenetically. This culture is naturally very spiritual and plays an important role in the story. They send Hibiki on a sort of vision quest, and of coures Hibiki returns a different man. At this point, one of the telekenetic elders places a stone on Hibiki's forehead as an indicator that he's completed this rite of passage.

Fancy Stone

Interestingly, there are a few other characters in the series that feature this stone. One is Rabat, who looks and dresses like the telekenetic folks, but the other one (and this is really interesting) is BC, the second-in-command of the Nirvana. I'm not sure what the deal is there, but from what happens later in the series, this is quite interesting.

BC has a Fancy Stone too

I ended up taking over 100 screenshots from the series, so I could probably keep going, but since time is at a premium for me these days I'll finish it off with a stylized shot of Hibiki.


I've got a few more Anime posts in the pipeline (Next up is the Read or Die OVA), though the way work has been going lately, I don't know when I'll actually get to them (but I will!)
Posted by Mark on April 22, 2007 at 05:25 PM .: Comments (5) | link :.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Link Dump: Awesome Pictures Edition
Yes, time is still short these days, so just a few links featuring lots and lots of pictures: That's all for now. Sorry for the lameness of recent bloggery, but again, time is short.
Posted by Mark on April 18, 2007 at 10:37 PM .: Comments (2) | link :.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Opera 9.2
Opera is my favorite web browser. I started playing around with version 3.x back in the late 1990s, but at the time, Opera was not free (and I was a poor college student), so I generally used the freely distributed IE or Netscape (with the occasional pre-release version of Mozilla thrown in for fun.) At the time, I didn't see the point of Opera - it was just another browser, and it had its own quirks that made websites render funny (because web developers never bothered to check their code in Opera, a practice that sadly persists to this day) or not work at all. The only real advantage it had was the multi-document interface (aka "tabbed browsing"), a feature that was not present in any other browser. This was great and all, but not enough to make me want to shell out 40 bucks.

In 2001 Opera released version 5. The big news here was that they had a free version of the browser (though it had these large, ugly banner ads attached), so I could download it and start using it on a more regular basis. The other important thing about version 5 was that it incorporated Mouse Gestures. This was, by far, the most important innovation in web browsing I'd ever seen in a browser, and that feature alone has kept me glued to Opera ever since. Several years have passed, the ugly ads have gone away (the full version is now freely downloadable), and many features have been added - some good (the wand, email support, and a few other things) and some not so much (the baffling Widgets). Opera has remained at the forefront of web browsing, which is pretty impressive considering it's opponents in the web browsing realm. Anyway, last week they released version 9.2, which includes 1 new feature which I think is fantastic. It's called speed dial, and it looks like this:

Opera Speed Dial

The idea is that whenever you open a new tab, they show you a list of your favorite sites (as configured by you). When combined with Mouse Gestures, this works remarkably well. It's a simple idea, but I love it.

Opera has maintained itself as a commercial company because it has focused on bringing their lightweight browser to the mobile and embedded market. They've done pretty well for themselves too (they're on a lot of phones, and they're the browser on the Wii as well). But it's nice to see that they're still innovating on the desktop.

There is a bigger question here that will have to wait for some other post, and that's whether or not Firefox is a better browser. That I haven't switched yet pretty much tells you where I'm at on this, but I am a little conflicted. Each browser has its strengths and weaknesses, but again, this will have to wait for another post.
Posted by Mark on April 15, 2007 at 08:11 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So this Twitter thing seems to be all the rage these days. I signed up a few days ago, just to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out to be a little nebulous and I'm not sure it's something I'd use all that much. Everyone seems to have a different definition of what Twitter is, and they all seem to work. Mine is that it's a sorta mix between a public IM system and a stripped-down blogging system. It's got some similarities with certain aspects of MySpace and Facebook, but it's much simpler and stripped-down. Here's my twitter:

There's "Friends" and "Followers" and you can update your Twitter via a number of interfaces, including IM Clients, SMS messaging, and the web interface (amongst other similar connections). You can also get updates on such devices. I don't use any of these methods with regularity, though the concept of being able to update Twitter while waiting in line or something seems like a vaguely interesting use of normally wasted time.

I guess the idea is that if you and all your friends are on Twitter, you can keep up with what everyone's doing in one quick and easy place (the default way to read Twitter is with your posts and your friends' posts mixed together on one page). My problem: I don't think any of my friends would be into this. I suppose I could mess around on Twitter and find a bunch of folks that I'd want to keep up with for some reason, but that seems... strange. Why would I want to keep tabs on some stranger?

Jason Kottke claims that this is a huge time-saver and perfect for people who are really busy:
For people with little time, Twitter functions like an extremely stripped-down version of MySpace. Instead of customized pages, animated badges, custom music, top 8 friends, and all that crap, Twitter is just-the-facts-ma'am: where are my friends and what are they up to? ... Twitter seems to work equally well for busy people and not-busy people. It allows folks with little time to keep up with what their friends are up to without having to email and IM with them all day.
I suppose this would be true, though I've been busy lately and have only managed to update Twitter once or twice a day. Naturally, there are some interesting side-projects like Twittervision, which shows updates happening in real time on a map, or Twitterverse, which shows common words and users.

It's an interesting and simple concept, and it could be useful, but I'm not sure how much I'll get into it... It seems like more of a novelty at this point. Anyone else use it?

Update: Some people are using Twitter for unintended uses, and there are some great ficticious Twitterers like Darth Vader. It's interesting how quickly people start pushing the boundries of new stuff like this and using it for things that were never intended.

Update 4.12.07: Aziz comments. He's using it to power a section of his sidebar, dedicated to songs... a pretty good idea, and using Twitter ("a device-agnostic messaging system," as he calls it) to power it is a good fit.

Oh, and it appears that my little flash badge doesn't really update (it does, but most browsers cache it and Flash won't update unless you clear your cache manually).
Posted by Mark on April 11, 2007 at 09:37 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Ten Things I Like About Grindhouse
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's double-feature Grindhouse was released this weekend. Since it's a pretty non-standard experience, I figured I'd avoid the standard review. Here are ten things I like about Grindhouse (in no particular order):
  • Unpretentious: This is a subject recently making the rounds at a bunch of blogs I read, and was kicked off by Steven Den Beste at metafilter:
    I glory in my plebeian tastes.
    I wallow in the crass, the banal, the mundane.
    I feel no shame at all in in cleaving to the middlebrow.
    And I derive great pleasure and satisfaction from the impotent spluttering of those who think they are my betters.

    This is my declaration of independence from the tyranny of pretension and snobbery.
    This might as well be the battle-cry of Rodriguez and Tarantino while making this movie. What else would you expect from two guys who profess a sincere love of bad exploitation films, and made this film to revel in their unpretentious glory.
  • The Previews: Grindhouse is comprised of two totally separate features, separated by several faux-previews (one preview precedes it as well) for non-existant films, such as Werewolf Women of the S.S. by Rob Zombie, Don't Scream by Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead fame), and Thanksgiving by Eli Roth. These previews are awesome, and I'm almost a little disapointed that I won't get to see these bad, bad movies (or will I?). Particularly striking is Eli Roth's Thanksgiving trailer, which mimics the late 1970s previews for the original Halloween. I say this is striking because Rob Zombie has decided that Halloween needs to be remade, and the preview was shown before Grindhouse started. Compared to Thanksgiving, the trailer for the new Halloween comes off as totally uninspired and boring. Quite frankly, I'd much rather see Zombie make Werewolf Women of the S.S. than "reimagine" a movie that simply doesn't need to be remade.
  • Missing Reels: Grindhouse films were infamous for their low production values, and also because no one really seemed to care that much about the movies - for instance, lots of films would be shown in theaters even though they were missing reels. Rodriguez and Tarantino take full advantage of this, and elevate the missing reel to a legitimate art form.
  • Faux Low Production Values: Speaking of low production values, Rodriguez and Tarantino have peppered their segments with various conventions of bad exploitation movies. I call this "faux" low production values because they obviously have good production values, but actually do extra work to make it seem like a grindhouse movie. For instance, Rodriguez intentionally scratched up the negatives to make it seem like the prints were well- worn. There are several impeccably placed bad edits or poorly spliced reels (including the aformentioned missing reels).
  • Characters with names like "Stuntman Mike": As I a friend noted, I don't know if anyone but Tarantino could pull off a film with a major character named Stuntman Mike. Then again, Tarantino's probably the only one who would think of doing such a thing.
  • Kurt Russell: He's awesome. Also, it's nice to see Michael Biehn working again.
  • Live Car Stunts: No CGI here (well, not in Tarantino's segment, Death Proof). Instead, he hired kiwi stunt woman Zoe Bell to play herself in the movie and do some awesome stunts. It's funny, but knowing that these stunts are really happening really does highten the tension.
  • A Seamless Intersection of the 1970s and the Present: Both films are set in the present day, but they look and feel like they were made in the 1970s. I don't know how they managed to do this, but they did. Rodriguez's Planet Terror perhaps looses a little edge because it's so over-the-top that it approaches intentional comedy, while Tarantino's Death Proof is a more sincere attempt to exactly reproduce a cheesy 1970s car movie.
  • Music: Rodriguez provides a good portion of the music for Planet Terror, and he manages to capture that cheesy 1970s feel. Great stuff. Tarantino has a good selection in Death Proof as well.
  • Dialogue: Tarantino's trademark dialogue style is evident in Death Proof, especially in a great long-take in a diner, while Rodriguez's Terror Planet is filled with hilarious cheesy one-liners.
The movies certainly aren't pefect, and in fact, they're intentionally bad. Rodriguez's movie really ratchets up the action-packed pyrotechnics and gross-out pus-and-gore factor, while Tarantino structures his segment oddly and awkwardly paces the film (this is a little annoying to watch until you realize that it's completely intentional, and the pacing picks up as the film proceeds). So yeah, this won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it was mine.

I could probably keep listing things I like about Grindhouse (the above list was done in a stream-of-consciousness style), which I think says something about the film. Interestingly, there's probably someone right now who's writing a "Ten Things I Hate About Grindhouse" and listing out the exact ten things I did. Go figure.
Posted by Mark on April 08, 2007 at 08:38 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

Programming Notes
Two things I planned to write about this week (and in the coming weeks) have been delayed or otherwise cut short. First, due to some sort of Netflix screwup, I never got discs 2-4 of Vandread: Second Stage (disc 1 was great). Instead, I got 3 movies I wasn't expecting but want to see anyway (I still haven't figured out why, as the Vandread discs were next in my queue and they have a status of being available "Now"). With any luck, I'll have the rest of the series this week. This is the first time Netflix has ever messed up for me, so I guess I shouldn't complain, but still.

The second thing I was planning to write (a lot) about was the Philadelphia film festival. However, due to long hours and work and an otherwise hectic schedule, I doubt I'm going to get a chance to see the movies I wanted to. I might be able to make the trek to the city to see one or two films. Then again, I only saw 4 films last year (along with the Adult Swim thing), so I guess it won't be that much of a wash. Still, I had wanted to see more this year (and was even considering taking some time off), but the way certain projects have fallen at work, I just can't. There's always next year.

So blogging will be somewhat light in the coming week (I do still have another entry for tonight though). You never know, though. Sometimes my periods of highest blogging productivity are when I'm busiest in other areas of my life. Inspiration often seems to strike when you have the least amount of time to act on it. One of the ironies of life, I guess.
Posted by Mark on April 08, 2007 at 08:27 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I believe the answer is Spartaaaaaaa
Time is short this week (I know, what else is new, but it's especially short this week) so I'll just point to some of the funniest photoshopped 300 parodies I've seen [via NeedCoffee]. I've included one of my favorites below, but I think the best one is in an animated gif about halfway down the page.

King Leonidas Plays Who Wants to be a Millionaire

Some other good ones: King Leonidas, Zidane Style, Wile E. Coyote, and This is Ping Pong. Oh, and of course, the PG Version.
Posted by Mark on April 04, 2007 at 09:36 PM .: Comments (1) | link :.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

As requested, a review of Vandread. I finished the first series this week, and I must say that I'm quite pleased (this is in line with my initial thoughts). The first series doesn't answer all the questions that were raised and the story isn't complete, but it answers some and provides a great, satisfying finale. It's a big, spectacular battle sequence, but the reason it's satisfying has little to do with the action (though that's fun too).

It occurrs to me that I haven't actually described the story much yet. Sometime in the future, men and women seem to have segregated themselves on separate planets, and for three generations, a war has been waged between the sexes (apparently, in this future, technology provides a means to reproduce which does not require interaction between the sexes). It's a little unclear why this rift exists, but it does, and it is exacerbated by propaganda depicting the opposite gender as monsters or worse. Hibiki is a mechanic that works on Vanguards (giant fighting robots or mechas), and as part of a dare, he attempts to steal one off a ship that is launching. Of course, he gets stuck on the ship, which is promptly attacked by women pirates. During the course of the battle, the ship takes moderate damage, but its core power generator has some rather nifty automatic repair mechanisms that sorta run haywire, merging the men's ship with the women's ship and transporting them far away. Hibiki and two other men are stuck on the ship with a bunch of women, and to make matters even worse, they seem to have stumbled into a new, unknown enemy that attacks on sight. Who are these new enemies, where do they come from, and what do they want? And can the three men work hand in hand with women to defeat this mysterious foe?

The male & female ships are merged into this ship, dubbed Nirvana

In general, the series has a lot of action, but the focus is pretty squarely on the characters. There are a few standouts who get the majority of attention, but many of the side characters are also interesting and likeable. The main characters are Hibiki and Dita (one of the female pirates), and their relationship has grown pretty steadily throughout the series to a point where they're both acknowledging that they kinda like each other. Hibiki has had the clearest character arc so far and I think the ending of the first series is satisfying because of the way Hibiki handles the final battle. The story of the series doesn't end, but Hibiki has definitely changed, and for the better. He was a bit of an annoying loudmouth at the beginning of the series, but he has grown, and it's been handled well. Again, many of the characters are likeable (though not all - I'm not a huge fan of Jura or Barnette, but that's only a minor beef, and I'm pretty sure they capture what the writers were going for anyway), and there are many little subplots and relationships that are entertaining and fun. My favorite subplot was the Christmas episode. I'm a total sucker for Christmas stories, and I absolutely loved that episode. (Screenshots and more comments on this subplot below the fold.) I'm guessing that some of these characters will be fleshed out a little more in the Second Stage (the stoic male doctor Duero and the female engineer Parfet will continue to flirt, Bart might actually become something of a leader and maybe get with BC, and Meia, well, I'm not sure what she's up to, but I think she's an interesting character.)

Bart and BC
Bart & BC share a moment

The animation is pretty and the action sequences are well executed. I mostly watched the series with dubbing on, though I took a gander at the subtitles as well (as I've noted before, I'm interested in the differences between translations, and will still occassionally watch a series with english dubbing and subtitles on at the same time). I haven't settled on which is better in general, but the dubbing on this series wasn't bad at all, so I ended up sticking with that for most of the series. The translation seems a bit funny at times (dialogue that is supposed to be witty banter or sound inspirational sometimes fall a little flat), but the general idea always gets through. The music is serviceable, but not great (I'm just spoiled by Yoko Kanno, I think). All in all though, it seems to be pretty well produced.

The story still has a fair share of open questions, but again it seems to be progressing nicely and I'm looking forward to watching the Second Stage. The series is clearly episodic with an overarching story underlying everything. This works well, as the episodic content allows the writers to develop the relationships between the characters. Lots of jokes are made exploring the differences between the two sexes, and it's quite fun. The ending of this first series was great, though I can't imagine getting that far and not wanting to watch Second Stage. The series was pretty much exactly what I expected, and it seems like it's got a lot of the steriotypical Anime tropes, right down to the way the characters (i.e. faces, hair, clothes) are animated. Everything looks somewhat familiar, but not (I could swear I've seen half of these people before). For a beginner like myself, this definitely isn't a bad thing, and it seems like a pretty good gateway drug. There are some aspects of the plot that might seem strange upon closer inspection, but I don't seem to be getting hung up on nitpicks or anything. It's funny, but corny stuff that might normally bother me doesn't seem to be doing so with this series...

Again, I'm very much looking forward to the conclusion of the story, which I assume happens in the Second Stage. Thanks again to Steven for the recommendation... this is just about exactly what I was looking for.

More screenshots & commentary below the fold... As mentioned above, the character of Hibiki grows a lot as the series progresses, and it becomes clear that something has changed when he sits down and attempts to develop a plan to save the ship. It shows that he's developed a more serious and thoughtful side, and his actions have more meaning than they did before. It's a great moment:

Hibiki contemplates a plan

Men have developed fighting machines called Vanguards, which are pretty straightforward-looking mechas. Women have more traditional fighters called Dreads. The Vanguard that Hibiki uses has the rather odd ability to temporarily combine with the Womens' Dreads, thus creating something entirely different: the titular Vandread:

It's a Mecha!

There are actual several different varieties of Vandread, depending on which Dread Hibiki combines with (there's a lot of male/female awkwardness as the women, especially Jura, attempt to vie for combination with Hibiki, who just wants to be left alone.) One of the nitpicks that would probably bother me about the series if I didn't like it so much is the actual process of this combination. Every combination basically shows the Vanguard popping into a Dread, then everything just changes, and the two pilots are suddenly thrust together in a single cockpit. It's something that might be annoying, but strangely isnt. Here's Hibiki and Dita after combining:

Hibiki and Dita
How'd they end up in the same cockpit?

A while ago, I wrote about Lain's Bear Pajamas (from Serial Experiments Lain) and found out that it's actually something that's relatively common in Japan. They're called Kigurumi, and it appears that a member of the female crew is so grossed out by having men onboard her ship that she sequesters herself in a little bear costume so she can avoid having to deal with them looking at her (or their smell). I'm not sure what the deal is with the "Be Out" sign that she's wearing. She clearly doesn't like the men, and the series is riddled with strange english labels (on equipment or computer screens - they often only make partial sense), so I'm guessing it means that the guys need to be kicked off the ship or otherwise kept out of her way.

Bear Pajamas

The mysterious enemy ships are varied and have interesting designs. Here's one from the Christmas episode:

Funny Lookin Enemy Ship

And speaking of the Christmas episode, here are some other pics. The crew perks up around Christmas and goes nuts decorating the ship, putting up a huge Christmas tree, and preparing gifts for each other. They're also passing by a huge comet, which makes for a strangely appropriate atmosphere (and it comes in handy later in the episode). The men have no idea what Christmas is, and so they have to figure it all out and get their female counterparts a last minute gift. It's interesting because it's one of the later episodes and the characters are becoming better developed, and this gives them a chance to relax (sort of). As previously mentioned, I'm a sucker for Christmas stories, and this is a fantasic episode.

Decorating the tree
That's one huge tree!

Duero, Hibiki and Bart try to figure out this Christmas thing
Duero, Hibiki and Bart try to figure out this Christmas thing

Lighting the tree
Lighting the tree. Did I mention it's a huge tree?

Dita's gift to Hibiki is awesome. I must find a way to work this picture into Christmas this year (and, hmmm, isn't December 25 some other holiday?)

Hibiki Claus
Hibiki Claus

The series also has its fair share of spectacular visuals. Some of the big battle sequences are difficult to capture in a single screenshot, but here's a nice big explosion:


That's all for now. I'll be starting Vandread: Second Stage this week, and I might even be able to finish it by next weekend. However, I've got a busy schedule at work this week, and the Philly film festival starts next week. Gah. To much to do, and too little time.
Posted by Mark on April 01, 2007 at 09:44 PM .: Comments (6) | link :.

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